1. Miswrite
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    Miswrite Member

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    I hate hooks.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Miswrite, Feb 20, 2009.

    I hate hooks. There, I said it. Nothing makes me put down a book faster than a good hook.

    I understand the purpose of the hook, and maybe that's the problem. As soon as I read that exciting first sentence/paragraph/page, I'm instantly disappointed in the author. "Oh, so you were just so focused on publishing you had to do what the people want, instead of writing for yourself?" I think. Instant turn-off.

    The classic hook is, of course, the action hook - "The pilot of the helicopter stared ahead in terror as the building got closer and closer." Problem? That's the worst thing ever, in my opinion. I'm instantly overwhelmed, because now there is only one fact I know: a helicopter is about to crash. And I have about a million questions. And no, I will NOT read the book to find the answers. I will most likely slam it down in agitation and move on to the next one. I don't have the patience to wade through hundreds of thousands of words to understand why the first line was what it was, and if the explanation is dumped on me in the beginning of the story, I feel even more overwhelmed.

    Another hook that frustrates me greatly is the fantasy/sci-fi hook. I love the genre, but the hooks are bloody terrible most of the time. Usually, to pique the reader's interest, a made-up word is thrown in there at the beginning. "The alzmerararabarashmara sent a distress signal to the jekkelloleman." Who cares what any of those are? Are they people, places, machines, pixies? I kind of want to know, but I want to know now. If you don't TELL me now, I will not read any further.

    Perhaps the only hook that I can live with and even like occasionally is the calm hook. Something simple like, "Clarisse hated business trips." I want to know why, I want to know who Clarisse is, I want to know what this is leading up to - and all of these are healthy, curiousity questions, not nervous, "Why is that helicopter/zemeernerber exploding" questions.

    What are some hooks you love, hate, or love to hate? (Or hate to love?)
     
  2. Asuran
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    Asuran Member

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    Well that sound boring. Would you rather read a book that begins, "It was a sunny, uneventful day while John Collins, the captain of George Washington High School's football team, was walking home"? It leaves you with no questions except, "How does the author expect me to want to finish the book?" Honestly, every book I can think of begins with a hook. Otherwise nobody would read.
     
  3. Miswrite
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    Miswrite Member

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    See, now that instantly attracts me. It sounds perfect and I would definitely keep reading. Maybe it's the use of 'uneventful' - the author makes that clarification, therefore hinting that something eventful will soon happen. 'Walking home' also provides endless possibilities - will he be mugged, kidnapped?
     
  4. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Sometimes I just hate the obvious Hollywood hooks. Although, they can occasionally give you a heads up. If the author is overly concerned with flash and action, I need not read. A good action film would do better. However, I usually flip through the book to read a page here and there before making any judgements. I don't have a clue what I'm reading and I forget most of it, so it doesn't hurt the story. But it gives me a better picture of the writing.

    My own hook: "Michael found himself floating in empty space" was entirely by accident. His chapter starts off with a lucid dream. So I spent a good deal of time wondering how to describe this. What should I mention first? His feelings, the scene? finally I just settled on the most obvious thing. He was just floating there. Second thing was 'where'? So the second line.. "He was on the second floor of a large building". Then, what is Michael seeing? etc

    I think it often just turns out this way... the author may not even be actively trying to hook you. What you perceive as an obvious hook may just be the most obvious detail to be mentioned first.

    But I agree that hooks can be annoying in that they are like ragged old men trying to lure you to the truck with a lolipop.
     
  5. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    I don't think I could get into a book that starts off completely ordinary. I get more than enough of "ordinary" in my own life; I don't need to read about someone else's boring life on top of that. I'm not saying that I need things to start with a bang. Just something more interesting than, say, "It was a sunny, uneventful day while John Collins, the captain of George Washington High School's football team, was walking home." :D
     
  6. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    I agree with you. Here is the opening from a book at my desk. "Doro discovered the woman by accident when he went to see what was left of one of his seed villages."

    I want to know what a seed village is and what woman did he discover by accident. I can feel what you are saying. at the same time though I do like a good action hook. To me that means that the novel is going to go at a breakneck speeds and I need to hold on for the ride.
     
  7. AthenaMinerva
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    AthenaMinerva New Member

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    I always love to start with some mention of the weather. Normally it's raining. I find that it gets me started writing, and it attracts my attention.
     
  8. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    I hate books that start with the weather. I either want something clever and funny and intriguing OR something interesting that the character is doing that immediately pulls me into their world.

    Here's an example of the first one from As Simple As Snow:
    This wasn't just written for shock value. It told you about the 2 main characters, but it didn't tell you everything.
     
  9. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I hear ya. The action books can be ok, too, I suppose, but it all depends on the writing. Like I said, I tend to flip around, so the opening line is irrelevant to me.

    One of my favorite books when I was very young... (I was 8?) was Whispering Woods, by Clayton Emery. Can't really recall the opening line or page, but it started pretty innocent. There was a nice big monster on the cover to tell me what was in store. So the first page(s?) was (were?) about Gull the woodcutter doing his woodcuttin' thing... And some casual mention of his sister... (I think) and then a bunch of goblins show up on a 'flying bladder', hanging their butts over the side to - well, you know - and throwing spikes down on the villagers. Then everything just goes crazy and you wind up reading about this incredible epic battle over a tiny village for the next several chapters.

    How can you not read on when crazy, obscene goblins come into the picture? (and you are 8 years old) But it didn't open with the goblins, and didn't have to... not even for an impatient child. So I still wonder... if the opening chapter is good, how many people are really so shallow as to dump the book after the first line if it isn't the most profound, fascinating thing ever?
     
  10. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    The problem with the literary "hook" in today's writing styles is that the concept itself...grab the reader by the emotional gonads and squeeze...has become cliche. Seems like every "modern" story starts with the same 'ol BS hook formula. It's getting as bad as all the rest of the formulaic drivel being published today. I share the OP's contempt for the hard hook that only serves to catch ignorant reader-fish; not the discriminating reader.

    On the otherhand, subtlety in an opening plot attracts my interest.

    Like Miswrite says, "Maybe it's the use of 'uneventful' - the author makes that clarification, therefore hinting that something eventful will soon happen. 'Walking home' also provides endless possibilities - will he be mugged, kidnapped?" Those carefully inserted words that offer endless possibilities catch my attention and lead me deeper into the story. Are they still a "hook"...yeah, technically...but subtle development of a storyline respects the reader's intelligence and lacks the theatrical melodrama typically associated with today's tired writing formula.
     
  11. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    It really depends on what one defines as a hook. For example, Zora Neale Hurston's book Their Eyes Were Watching God opens with a great line: "Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board." I'd prefer that to something like: "The toad sat, licking the flies from the dead man's eye sockets" anyday. But I don't consider Hurston's line as a hook.

    However, there needs to be something. There needs to be a first sentence that addresses some aspect of what the piece is about, whether it relates to the theme (preferable in my opinion), a specific character, or a line of dialogue ("Who is John Galt?" springs to mind).

    Meh. It's all subjective anyway.
     
  12. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    @marina - You mentioned that opening another thread too. It is a great start for a book, definitely a good hook.

    Wuzzah? :confused:

    When you say "the people," you realize you are talking about readers, right?

    Here are two scenarios for you. You tell me which one is better.

    Scenario A)
    The author writes for himself first and his readers second. He doesn't do it for them really. It's mostly about himself, for whatever reason: self exploration, personal enjoyment, etc. His goal is not to get published, but if that somehow happened, it might not necessarily be a bad thing.

    Scenario B)
    The author writes for his readers first. That's not to say he gets nothing personal out of writing--he does--but that's not his main goal. His primary goal is to get published. He might engage in self exploration, get personal enjoyment, etc. from it, but that's secondary to the goal of getting published.
     
  13. TwinPanther13
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    Well goes to show you can not trust the books on writing. Everyone says grab them by the balls with the first line. It's a cycle, like I said in another post. I am sure that 10 years from now all the writing books will be saying to start with a subtle hook to draw the reader in. Leave them cusious as to what's to come.
     
  14. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    Here's another kind of start I like, which isn't all dramatic or tense or funny. It's more interesting in terms of giving me a piece of the character. I don't know if this would be called a hook or not, but it gets me interested.

    Jodi Picoult, Keeping Faith:
     
  15. Asuran
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    Asuran Member

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    "They hate him. They always have. They always will. But I don’t."
    Is that a good hook in your opinion?
     
  16. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    When I think of a "hook," I think of getting the reader's attention. A good hook gets the reader interested and makes him want to keep reading. If you start off with something bland, you're not helping. There is a difference between being subtle/overt and being interesting/boring. A good hook might be subtle or overt, but it should always be interesting.

    Using a hook is always good imo. Why would you ever not want to interest your reader?
     
  17. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    @ asuran: No. Not a good one at all. I don't like the constant 3 word sentences. I'd have to see what else is on page 1.
     
  18. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    See, I would definitely call this a hook. It hooks me into the story and makes me want to know more about this narrator.
     
  19. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    @sorites: Maybe this is the "uneventful" or "subtle development" NaCl or the OP are talking about?
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Absent a hook, why would a reader continue reading? By definition, te absence of a hook is the absence of anything that would attract the reader's interest.

    So I assume the topic is directed more at clumsy, contrived hooks.
     
  21. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Nicely said, NaCI. I would actually find that to be a very intriguing opener myself... So the questions are - who is your target market, how do they think, and what is the best way to hook them?

    These simple formulae will never suffice. You must know your target market like the back of your behind, and exercise critical thinking when taking advice from a writing guide. (or anyone)

    That said, every kind of hook has its place, depending on the readers.
     
  22. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    Maybe. I think people should realize, though, that hooks are necessary. They're not even a necessary evil--they're a good thing! So yeah, maybe this thread is about how some hooks are good and some are bad, but that begs the question: according to whom?
     
  23. Miswrite
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    Miswrite Member

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    You all bring up very interesting points. Some of the examples posted here were exactly my taste - not exactly hooks, but enough to keep the reader reading. My definition of a hook and an interesting beginning are not the same. A hook is, in my opinion (although concrete, defined words shouldn't be explained with an opinion) something that literally hooks the reader - the author expects them to be pulled into the story instantly. I see a lot of modern writers with these expectations and wants, which is why so many of them use action hooks. I dislike those specifically because they have too much action. I feel like I was dropped out from the sky into some gunfight scene, and my first instinct is to go hide and wait it out.

    I realize it seems ridiculous to judge a book based on its first sentence, but there are some things you just know you won't like. For instance, a person who hates horror will most likely not pick up a book with a particularly graphic cover, even if the cover is misleading and the story is actually not of the horror genre. I may miss out on some great books by stopping at the first sentence, but I may also save my valuable time in case the book does turn out to be not my cup of tea.
     
  24. Gone Wishing
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    Personally, I'd rather the writer was thinking of the story when writing the opening line, not the intended market.

    I don't really have a style of hook that I either prefer or dislike greatly, nor has an opening line ever grated on my nerves to the point where it made me reconsider wanting to read on.

    I kind of see the whole thing a little differently, I suppose. When I consider how a book grabs my attention and makes me want to read it, it's never been from reading the first line or even the first paragraph - all the info that hooks me is on the dust-jacket (blurb, author info, review extracts). So when it comes to reading the opening line, I already have a sense of where I am going to be, and consider the opening line to be the part that says "you know what kind of story this is, and this it where it needs to start".
     
  25. Miswrite
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    That is exactly what I meant by my comment in the original post that I'm frustrated the author is thinking of the readers instead of him/herself.
     

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